Summary: When an old friend of Ben’s suddenly shows up on his door step, will it mean more heartache for both of them, or will they finally have a chance for love? According to Hop Sing the legend of the Morning Glory hold a clue. Written for the Back to the Future challenge.
Rating; K+, Word Count: 13,044
A Chance for Love
Adam Cartwright leaned against a post near the stage office, arms loosely crossed over his chest and eyes quietly observing the busy town. He had arrived earlier that morning to take care of some business for the ranch before meeting the stage, but as it turned out he would have had plenty of time. The stage was an hour late. Hearing a holler and the jingle of harnesses, he angled his head to glance over his shoulder and peer down the street. Stepping back to the wall to avoid most of the dust thrown up by the horses’ hooves, Adam watched as the passengers stepped off. A gentleman followed by a young man, each carrying their valises, exited first and headed straight to the hotel to be greeted on the steps by an older woman. Distracted by watching them, Adam heard his youngest brother before seeing him.
“Boy, it’s good to be off that stage. Way too hot for my liking. Charlie those three brown bags are ours.”
“Joe, settle down. Here Pa, I’ll take your bag.”
“I’ve got it just fine. Now where’s Adam. He should have been here waiting for us.”
Adam stepped forward to greet his family. “Right here Pa.”
Grins and handshaking reconnected the four men while suitcases were unloaded from the top of the coach.
As the family walked from the Virginia City stage depot to the carriage across the street Joe and Hoss talked up a storm about the last three hours of the trip, while Adam observed his quiet and rather irritable father. Placing Ben’s bags in the boot as Hoss and Joe placed theirs in he spoke quietly to them.
“Is Pa alright?”
Joe glanced his way and shrugged before climbing into the backseat, leaving Hoss to answer.
“Yeah, it’s just been a long trip. Three weeks in a stagecoach from St. Louis in May ain’t the best way to travel, ya know.” Hoss rested his hand on his brother’s shoulder and gave him a look that implied he had more to say but at a later time.
After everyone was settled in the carriage, Adam snapped the reins and headed for home. He figured a hot bath and some of the feast Hop Sing was preparing would help them all feel better.
At dinner, Ben livened up and joined in on some of the stories Joe and Hoss shared of their trip to St. Louis. With the smiles and laughter floating around the table Adam relaxed and simply enjoyed having everyone home again.
After enjoying dessert of apple and peach pies, no one was surprised when Ben and Joe headed to bed. Hoss remained a bit longer to enjoy a piece of apple pie since he’d had peach on the first round.
“I gather you missed Hop Sing’s cooking?” Adam stretched his legs toward the fire as he watched his middle brother savor each bite.
Hoss gave a big swallow and grinned. “You know I did. The food in St. Louis was good but it can’t hold a candle to the way Hop Sing fixes everything. Of course I ain’t mentioning what we ate on the way home. Like Joe said one time, we never knew what good cookin’ was like till Hop Sing came along.”
Adam smirked. “Yeah, Joe was right about that.”
Adam glimpsed their cook and friend returning to the kitchen with the rest of the dishes, confirming he heard the discussion, and could easily visualize his smile upon hearing Hoss’ words of praise. Each of them had experienced being away from home cooking for long periods and always relished getting back to it.
Adam smoothly rose to his feet. “Listen, when you’re finished, why don’t you join me on the front porch.”
Hoss nodded as his mouth was once again full of pie.
Outside, Adam leaned back in his chair on the front porch and propped his feet on the planter that contained one of Marie’s climbing roses. It was a sweet Spring evening, with the heady scent of pine in the air. Adam closed his eyes and drank in the peace and calm. While he had enjoyed his time alone on the ranch and a chance to run everything himself, he was happy to have his father and brothers back home.
He heard the door open and close and heavy footfalls behind him. A brush of air against his neck and a thump of a chair told him Hoss had arrived and was sitting off to the side behind him. He didn’t have to wait long before Hoss’ deep voice filled the night air.
“Reckon you want to know ‘bout Pa.”
Adam swung his legs off the planter and turned his chair around. Leaning on the table he nodded. “I got the feeling in town there was something to tell.”
“Yeah, kinda, I guess. I’m just not sure I’m the one who oughta tell it.” Checking for Adam’s affirming gaze he went ahead with the story. “It all went well, as we told you at dinner. The people we met, Sarah Holmes and David Blakemore, were a big help in gettin’ us some more business prospects. What Pa didn’t mention was that they were good friends of his from before he met your mother.” Hoss paused to let Adam register that bit of information.
Adam pursed his lips, working his thoughts around. “He knew them, and from that long ago? I’m guessing there’s more?”
“Well, all I know is that after Pa set sail with your grandfather an’ met your mother an’ married her, he tried to stay friends with the other two but, as you can imagine, they eventually lost contact. They told us that part at dinner one night. Pa ended up spending a lot of time with them when we weren’t talking with businesses about our cattle and timber. A few days before we left, Joe mentioned that he was gettin’ concerned that Pa was smitten with Miss Holmes.”
“Concerned, why? I thought Joe would be fine if Pa found a special lady.”
“That’s the thing, Adam, Joe was happy about it, an’ so was I, but he said he kept seeing strange looks from Mister Blakemore. Well, I started payin’ attention an’ found out Joe was right.”
“Uh-oh, a triangle?”
“A what? Oh, yeah, I guess you could call it that. Anyway, something must have happened after Pa went to spend a final day with Miss Holmes and dinner with both of ‘em. Me an’ Joe were at the hotel packin’ up since we were catchin’ the stage the next mornin’, an’ we went to bed rather early. Well, we didn’t see Pa ‘til breakfast an’ that’s when we noticed the spark had gone from his eyes.” Hoss leaned forward and lowered his voice. “You’ve seen it, Adam. Anytime Pa gets an interest in a woman an’ it don’t work out he gets that dull look he has for a few days. Well this one’s lasted the entire trip, an’ he’s still got it.”
Hoss leaned back and watched for his brother’s reactions. Adam swiped his hand over his mouth then along the back of his neck.
“Oh boy. It got that serious? What could have happened?”
“Ain’t got a clue, an’ neither does Joe. And Pa certainly ain’t talkin’.”
Adam stretched his back and stood up. He reached over the table and squeezed his brother’s shoulder.
“Thanks for telling me. Guess we’ll just watch and see if Pa either wants to talk about it or pulls out of it.” He rubbed a spot in the small of his back and stifled a yawn. “I’m goin’ to bed. You comin’?”
“Yeah. I’ll be up in a bit, an’ I’ll lock up.”
“Okay. Good night.”
Hoss remained a little longer to let the night air clear away his concerns over his Pa. An hour later he lumbered up the steps toward the softness of his own bed.
The next day just after breakfast, the brothers rode off to check on the herds. Still at loose ends, Ben meandered outside to the garden behind the house and began pulling weeds from around one of Marie’s roses, which was profuse with deep pink buds. Whenever he was troubled he found comfort from something that reminded him of her. This time it was the infamous rose bush which she insisted on bringing from New Orleans. Although this was a descendant of the original it brought the same amount of comfort to him. Turning to toss a few weeds into a bucket, his eye caught sight of a young vine growing along the stone wall that framed the garden. He was surprised to see it already blooming. The large saucer-shaped flowers were deep purple with bright pink centers, and the leaves were heart-shaped.
He gently fingered the blooms as he let his thoughts meander where they may.
“It called Morning Glory.”
Ben jumped upon hearing Hop Sing’s voice behind him.
The venerable cook took no notice and stepped forward to water the vine before watering the other flowers nearby.
“Strange that I’ve never noticed it before.”
“Grow first time this year while you gone. It very pretty but has sad story with it. Hop Sing decide to let it grow and enjoy pretty flowers.”
Ben frowned, his focus still on the vine. “What can a flower have to do with a story?”
Hop Sing set his watering can down and settled on a bench near the wall. Ben finally joined him.
“Old Chinese tale tell about Morning Glory flower and two young lovers, Chien Niu and Chih Neu. Pair fell in love, but neglected their duties in caring for water buffalo and sewing. In anger, gods separated lovers on opposite sides of the Silver River and allowed them to meet just one day each year. It is said that Morning Glory flower planted to remind others of this sad love.” He touched one of the blooms. “Flowers bloom in morning and go away at nighttime. That mean fleeting nature of love. But next morning new flowers bloom which give hope for new love in future.”
Hop Sing remained for a moment longer before rising to finish watering the flowers. As he left the garden he glanced back at his boss, who was still sitting by the flowers. Watching as Ben continued to finger each velvety bloom he saw a gentle smile slowly replace the deep frown. Hop Sing nodded once and closed the gate. His work in the garden was finished.
After that morning, Ben returned to his chipper self thanks to the subtle help of Hop Sing. However, unbenounced to his sons and Hop Sing, he never fully relinquished his love for Sarah Holmes, who was soon to be Sarah Blakemore.
On a Saturday morning in June, Ben finished his morning coffee and refolded the recent copy of the Territorial Enterprise. Rising from the table he turned to take in the view from the window behind him. He never tired of seeing the mountains, tall pines, and shimmering lake. There was always something different about them each and every day. However, this particular morning brought about a heaviness in his heart, and he knew from whence came the sorrow. With a sigh Ben turned toward the empty room and took in the sound of silence in the house. It was too quiet for his liking but since his sons were on their way home from a cattle drive it would remain that way for another week.
Heading to the bookcase, Ben chose a favorite book and went out to the garden. Settling on the bench by the stone wall, he beheld the lush Morning Glory and it’s myriad of colorful blooms. His book forgotten, he fingered a delicate flower as he imagined the ceremony taking place on the other side of the country.
“Oh Sarah, I hope this day, your wedding day, will bring you joy with David.”
Recalling Hop Sing’s tale about the flower representing separated lovers, Ben’s thoughts drifted back to a time in his youth when all of life lay before him. He was about to embark on the biggest adventure of his life yet had no clue that would bring about many other changes in his path.
The early morning sun warmed the wooden pier as gentle waves pushed against it. Above the busy port, the sky was clear and the winds pleasant, although Ben knew the summer heat would arrive later that morning. Ben leaned against a cluster of barrels to watch the Wanderer sail into port.
“She’s a beautiful ship, Ben.”
He smiled as a delicate arm slipped around his elbow. “That she is, Sarah.” Her arm dropped to her side as he straightened up. “I didn’t expect to see you here. Does your father know?”
“No. Well, not yet. I had to come to see the ship, and,” Sarah turned her young face upward, revealing her sad eyes, “to see you off.”
Ben took her arm in his and together they strolled toward the incoming ship as it slipped into its berth. “Actually, since the ship has returned late, I’m not leaving until next week but I am glad you came. While it’s an honor to have been chosen to serve with Captain Stoddard, I shall miss spending time with you. My first tour will be finished in six months. Perhaps then you and I will be able to speak more seriously about our future together.”
Sarah stopped walking and stared at the ground. “Oh, Ben. I don’t know if we’ll have a future together. You know what Father thinks about your work. And there’s something else, which is the other reason I came to see you today.” She took a deep breath to summon her courage, then looked at his handsome face. “I’m leaving tomorrow for New York. Father and Mother want me to attend a business school for ladies and they wish us to be settled before I begin classes.” She reached once more for his hand. “Like you, I am excited about the prospect but I cannot say what our future will be. Even David has changed his plans.”
“Yes, I heard he’s been accepted to Yale.”
Sarah tried to smile. “It does seem like our joys of youth are over and we are all moving in different directions. Oh, Ben, will we ever be like we were, the three of us still friends and not a care in the world?”
Ben put his arm around her shoulders, hoping to reassure her. “I hope we can stay friends and remain in touch.” He turned to face her, his warm smile hiding his aching heart. “I shall miss you the most Sarah. I had hoped we would…”
“Sarah Anne Morgan Holmes!”
“Oh dear. I better go. Good-bye Ben. I wish you safe travels and I shall write to you. Will you write back?”
“I will.” He took her in his arms, gave her a warm but short kiss, and released her just as her father approached. He faced the man and extended his hand. “Good morning, Mister Holmes.”
Samuel Holmes ignored Ben’s hand and pierced him with angry eyes before addressing his daughter. “Sarah, you were told never to come here unescorted. It’s not a proper place for a lady of your means.”
“Yes, father. I only wished to say good-bye to Ben. He’s sailing soon on the Wanderer.”
“From what I saw you’ve done that. It’s time to go. Your mother is waiting in the carriage to take you shopping.”
As her father spun her around she glanced over her shoulder at Ben, her dearest friend for so many years. His warm smile filled her heart and she blew him a kiss.
As soon as Sarah disappeared into the carriage and the door swung closed, Ben’s smile faded. So much of his life had changed in a matter of days. It all began when he’d received the letter of appointment to the Wanderer. It was his dream fulfilled yet now he discovered his friends, David Blakemore and Sarah, were heading on their own journeys – David to college and Sarah to a business school. Both were expected to work for their family businesses. While David was always a bit standoffish over Ben’s chosen line of work as a seaman, he was still a loyal friend. Sarah on the other hand had come to mean so much more to him. She understood and accepted his calling to the sea, and thanks to her support he’d had the courage to apply for the job with Captain Stoddard. While his heart was with the sea, he had just realized he was losing it to Sarah as well but now he wouldn’t have the chance to know if she felt the same.
At the sound of that sharp voice, Ben spun around and stood at attention, all previous thoughts flying from his head. He saluted sharply. “Hello, Captain Stoddard. Welcome home, sir.”
“At ease, young man. You’re not a part of my crew just yet.” The Captain’s stern face relaxed a bit as he placed a weathered hand on Ben’s shoulder. That’s when Ben noticed a petite, dark-haired young woman standing behind the captain. Abel noticed and swung his arm out to invite her closer.
“I should like to introduce my daughter. Elizabeth, this is Benjamin Cartwright. He’ll be joining my crew and sailing with us when we depart next week. Benjamin, this is my daughter, Elizabeth.”
“Hello, Mister Cartwright.” Elizabeth’s eyes sparkled as she held her hand out.
Ben took her hand and gave her his brightest smile. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Miss Stoddard.”
“Well now, I must attend to a few things concerning my ship,” he noticed Elizabeth’s frown, “but it shan’t take more than an hour.”
“See that it’s no longer than that, Father. I’ve planned breakfast for you. “
“And I shall be there, my dear.” His gruff tone softened immediately when he spoke to his daughter. “Benjamin, would you care to join us?”
“It would be a pleasure sir.”
“Then perhaps you would be so kind as to escort Elizabeth home while I attend to my ship and crew.”
Ben smiled at Elizabeth and offered his arm. She slipped her arm through his as she gave a stern glance back to her father. “Don’t be late.”
As the pair walked away, Abel Stoddard’s weathered eye picked up a spark in his daughter’s eye. Curious, he watched them until they turned a corner then he returned to his ship.
A gust of cool wind brushed across Ben’s face, shaking him from his memories. Instinctively checking the sky, he was relieved to see it cloudless. Warmed from the memories and the morning sun, Ben closed his eyes to let the ghosts from the past fade away. When all was calm once more, he reached for a Morning Glory. Other memories tugged at this heart, these more recent and more painful.
Ben, Joe, and Hoss were in St. Louis prospecting for future business opportunities due to the proposed westward railroad expansion. After spending a few days in the city in business meetings and spending free time with his two youngest sons, it had been a shock for Ben when he discovered two friends from his youth, Sarah Holmes and David Blakemore were in the city and staying at the same hotel. While Ben’s meetings were winding down David’s were building, keeping him busy with his growing hotel business. Sarah was more available as she was meeting with a few clients for her family’s investment business. She and Ben spent their free time during the days together and several evenings with David.
Joe and Hoss were pleased to spend a couple of evenings getting to know their father’s friends, but soon they found other activities more to their liking, allowing Ben to enjoy catching up on the intervening years. The brothers did, however, rejoin the trio for a few meals over the next ten days. At those times neither missed a few of David’s pointed looks at their father, who appeared to be oblivious as he only had eyes for Sarah.
On the day before his departure from St. Louis, Ben and Sarah strolled around a park before meeting David for dinner. Ben took her hand in his and studied her beautiful face. “Sarah, these last few days have been like we’ve never had all those years in between. I know we’re not as young as we were when we last saw each other but our time together has made me feel young again, and more alive than I’ve felt in years.” Ben paused and took a deep breath. “What I’m trying to say is that I’m falling in love with you all over again.”
Sarah put a finger to his lips. “Oh Ben. You have always held a special place in my heart and many times I’ve often wondered what could have been had father allowed us to marry. But that didn’t happen and both of us have enjoyed full and happy lives.”
She dropped her hand and turned away but not before Ben saw a tear roll down her cheek.
“Sarah, what is it you’re not saying? What’s wrong? Is it that you don’t love me?”
Sarah spun around. “Oh no. That’s the problem, Ben. I do love you. I always have, but…”
“But what, Sarah?”
“I’m so sorry Ben, but back in Boston, before we left, David asked me to marry him, and I accepted. The wedding is planned for the end of June.”
It was Ben’s turn to step away, allowing his gaze to follow the river as it meandered it’s way through the city. His heart was breaking and his thoughts ran as rampant as the swift currents of the river. Taking a deep breath, he turned back, forcing a smile he would never feel.
“I wish you both well, Sarah. It’s getting late. We better get back to the hotel and prepare for dinner.”
As a formal air settled between them, the couple walked back to the hotel. Dinner that evening was cool and uncomfortable for all three friends, although Ben did his best to celebrate with David and Sarah.
Taking a deep, shaky breath, Ben released his heartache in a whisper. “It just wasn’t meant for us to be together, Sarah. Happy wedding day.” He released the flower and reached for his book. He was no longer in the mood to read in the garden, so he moved to the front porch. Soon after, Hop Sing arrived with coffee and sweet bread, and a smile. Ben returned the smile, finding comfort now in the path his life had taken. He sipped his coffee, took a piece of bread, and opened his book. He lost himself in the first chapter, as David and Sarah began their lives together. A distant part of him hoped that perhaps one day their paths would cross once more, or a letter would arrive, or maybe not.
Dust rose above the hot, dry streets of Virginia City as summer began with a vengeance. Adam made his way through town, first stopping at the bank to deposit some drafts, then moving on to the tack shop to check on some saddle repairs, and finally reaching his office. After hanging up his hat and jacket, he settled at his desk to peruse several drawings for a hotel remodel. Sipping his coffee, brought immediately by his assistant, he looked forward to a quiet morning to finish the plans, a quick lunch, and the afternoon to prepare for the presentation the next day.
Just after noon, across town, a woman dressed in a stylish burgundy and gray traveling suit carefully stepped off a train onto the platform. She immediately opened her parisol to shade her light complexion. She made a slight adjustment to her burgundy velvet hat which rested upon her upswept silver hair. A station attendant offered to retrieve her trunk and hail a driver for her. She thanked him but requested to rent a buggy instead. With directions to her ultimate destination in hand, she weaved her way through the town’s streets, thankful for the shade the small roof offered. Pulling over to allow a large wagon to pass by, the lady took a moment to glance at the various window fronts. One particular sign caught her attention so she parked her buggy and crossed the street.
Outside the small office, she took a deep breath as she read the scrolled writing on the placard once more:
Buildings and Mines
Adam Cartwright, Architect and Engineer
Shaking off her nerves, she entered the cool interior.
A young woman glanced up from her desk and smiled. “May I help you?”
“I hope so. I was wondering if I may speak with Mister Cartwright please?”
“I’m sorry but he is unavailable until late this afternoon. Perhaps you could return around four o’clock?”
“Oh dear, I’m afraid that would not be possible. I only have a quick question to ask…”
“Mabel, would you…” Adam paused when he stepped out of his office, noticing the older lady by his assistant’s desk.
“Adam, this lady has asked to see you. I tried to explain…”
“It’s alright Mabel. I have a few minutes.” Adam placed a stack of papers on the desk. “Would you copy these for me please? I’ll need them in the morning. Thank you.”
“Ma’am.” Adam smiled at the visitor and stood aside to allow her to enter his office.
“Thank you, Mister Cartwright. I promise I won’t take much of your time.”
After closing the door, he directed her to a chair across from his desk, then took his own seat behind the desk after she sat down. “How may I help you?”
“Well, first I suppose we should begin with proper introductions. I’m Missus Sarah Blakemore, from San Francisco.”
The name triggered a distant memory for Adam and something in her tone told him this was not a business call.
“I’m Adam Cartwright.”
“If I may be so bold, are you perchance related to Ben Cartwright of the Ponderosa?”
“Yes, he’s my father.”
She released a quiet breath and her eyes lit up. Adam’s faint memory of a long ago conversation pushed harder to get to the surface.
“And if I may, is your husband David Blakemore, of Blakemore Hotels?”
Adam noted the sadness in her brief answer. “How can I help you, Missus Blakemore?”
“I’ve just arrived in town, and was hoping I was in the right place to visit your father. I was following directions to leave town and find his ranch when I saw your sign and hoped you might be related to Ben. Your father and I are old friends, and, well, I’ve felt it was time to finally visit him.”
She sat up straight and kept eye contact with Adam through the conversation but her constantly moving fingers in her lap belied her nervousness.
Adam stood, a smile growing. “It would be my pleasure to escort you to the ranch, if you could give me a few moments to collect my papers.”
She started to protest, “Oh, that’s really not necessary, Mister Cartwright. It was not my intention for you to escort me. I was merely seeking more information to make sure I was in the right place.”
Adam paused while putting his drawings into tubes and gathering his papers. “It really is no inconvenience, Missus Blakemore. I can work just as well at home. In truth, if Pa found out I didn’t escort you, I would be in a lot of hot water with him.” His crooked smile put her at ease as he finished collecting his supplies, hat and jacket, and escorted the lady to the boardwalk.
He popped his head back inside. “Mabel, I’ll be in early tomorrow to prepare for the meeting.”
Mabel’s “yes sir” floated on air as Adam pulled the door closed.
Having stopped by the livery to retrieve Sport, Adam and Sarah settled in for the ride to the Ponderosa.
After a quiet half hour of studying the scenery, Sarah turned her attention to her escort.
“I want to thank you again for offering to drive me to your father’s ranch. I’ve only spent time in the big cities, with an occasional excursion into the countryside. It’s beautiful here yet quite rugged from what I’m accustomed to. Do we have much farther to go, Mister Cartwright?”
Adam suppressed a chuckle at how many times he’d been asked that question. “Please, call me Adam. In a few minutes we’ll cross onto the Ponderosa but it will be another hour and a half before we reach the house.”
“Oh my, I had no idea. Well, that certainly explains why the gentleman who rented the buggy to me kept insisting I have a driver.”
Adam released a grin at that point. “The distance catches all our visitors by surprise, Missus Blakemore.” He noticed a shade of embarrassment cross her face so he rested his hand on her arm. “It was not my intention to embarrass you. Perhaps we could get to know each other a bit more as we drive. I recall my father mentioning meeting you some years ago in St. Louis.”
“Yes, it’s hard to believe it’s been nearly ten years. That was the last time we had any connection.” Adam noticed her far away look. “So many things happened during that trip, and afterwards. I regret not working harder to keep in touch.”
“Keeping in touch out here in the West can be difficult sometimes, considering the mail service.”
“Yes, but one must make an effort as well. After David and I married, his hotel business began to grow and thrive, and soon we were traveling around the country, as well as in Europe. You see, David’s dream was to build his own hotels or buy and remodel existing ones, and he did very well at it.”
“It appears so. I’ve stayed in the one in San Francisco a few times.”
“Oh. Yes that one was David’s last investment, and perhaps his favorite. He retired shortly after acquiring and remodeling it.” Sarah remained quiet for a few moments, then lifted her eyes to watch Adam guide the buggy along the trail. Studying his profile she noticed he had the black hair and the firm jawline of his father, although it was hidden beneath a neatly trimmed beard. His casual attire of black shirt and pants also surprised her for someone in the business world. Used to the society rules of large cities, she thought perhaps they were not as stringent in the smaller western towns.
“I recall your father mentioning you when he was in St. Louis, although he didn’t say you were an architect.”
“I studied that and engineering in college but I didn’t have many opportunities to use them at that time. I spent most of my time working the ranch with my family. Now I have my own ranch. My brother, Joe, and I breed horses, and I work in town a few days a week on construction projects.”
“Horse breeding, that sounds wonderful. David and I kept a few thoroughbreds at our home in Monterey. I hope I might be able to see your horses some time, Adam.”
“I’d be glad to show them to you, Missus Blakemore.”
“Please, call me Sarah. I feel we are getting to know each other well enough for that.”
Adam released a warm smile, and snapped the reins to encourage the horse to climb a steeper grade. “Sarah it is.”
Sarah’s eyes grew wide when they entered the yard and she saw the large inviting log home, nestled in the tall pines, with the lake shimmering in the distance. Stepping from the buggy, shelooked around at the barn and the corral full of horses before accepting Adam’s arm. As they strolled to the front door a smile crept over Adam’s face as he imagined the surprise his father was about to receive.
Entering the home Adam immediately called out. “Pa? Where are you?”
Ben’s head snapped up as he stepped off the upper landing, surprised to hear his eldest son’s voice. “Adam? I thought you were working in town. What are you doing here? Nothing’s wrong, is it?” Making his way down the steps as he spoke, he nearly stumbled down the last two to the floor when he noticed their guest.
Standing near his grinning son was an elegant older woman, glancing nervously around the room. Her burgundy skirt rustled quietly when she turned at the sound of his voice and made eye contact with Ben. Despite her graying hair, Ben recognized her immediately and felt sure her face hadn’t aged a year. Unable to believe she was actually in front of him, he could only whisper her name, for fear a louder voice would cause her to disappear.
“Sarah?” He crossed the room in record time. “Sarah!”
When Sarah heard his deep voice speak her name her heart did a flip. His hair was snow white but he was still just as handsome as she remembered. Seeing the delight in his chocolate brown eyes, she nearly cried with relief. He was as thrilled to see her as she was to see him.
Ben enveloped Sarah in a warm hug. After a moment he released her and stepped back, sliding his hands gently down her arms to her hands. Neither could speak for all the emotions each was feeling so Ben guided her toward the stone fireplace.
Leaning against the credenza, Adam continued to smile while watching his father escort Sarah around the room, both now lost in animated conversation. Sensing another presence, Adam stepped over to the dining room to explain the situation to Hop Sing who had come out to see what all the commotion was about. Hop Sing shared a grin with Adam before he headed back to the kitchen. Recalling a long ago discussion in the garden, he hoped this visit would allow a new flower to bloom, and perhaps one that would last a lifetime.
Realizing dinner time was approaching, Adam stepped forward and cleared his throat. Ben and Sarah turned as one causing one of Adam’s eyebrows to rise.
“I’m sorry to interrupt, Pa, but I need to head home and finish those hotel plans. Where shall I put Sarah’s luggage?”
“Luggage? Oh of course. Put everything in the first room upstairs. Thank you, Adam.”
As soon as Adam disappeared through the door Sarah turned to Ben.
“I didn’t mean to inconvenience Adam nor did I mean to presume to stay. Oh, this day has been such a whirlwind for me.”
“Nonsense, Adam’s quite flexible these days concerning his work. And of course you’ll stay here. I wouldn’t have it any other way.” He squeezed her hands in affirmation.
No sooner had he left, Adam returned with Sarah’s bags and two ranch hands carrying her trunk. A few minutes later he was on his way home.
After seeing Adam off, Ben slowly closed the front door. He was grateful for his son’s offer to bring Sarah to the ranch and volunteering to return the buggy to town the next morning. Seeing Sarah relaxing on the settee, he wandered over to the sideboard in the dining room. “Since it will be a while before dinner, would you like some wine while we wait? I can also ask Hop Sing to bring out a light snack if you’re hungry.”
Sarah glanced up at the offer. “Just the wine, Ben. Thank you.”
Ben joined her on the settee, lifting his glass to hers. “Here’s to having dear friends visit and getting reaquainted.”
Sarah raised her glass to his then took a sip of the dark liquid. “You have a beautiful home, and this fire is just what I needed. After the heat in Virginia City, I was surprised how much cooler it became as we neared the house.”
“We’re quite a bit higher in elevation, and that helps a lot on these hot summer days. I should warn you the nights can seem quite cool, if you’re not used to it.”
“After the ride from town with Adam, I’m thankful I came across his office. I don’t think I could have found my way out here alone.”
Ben sipped his wine, grateful for that turn of events as well. “It’s a lot farther than people realize and the road can be treacherous in places.”
Sarah laughed lightly, “Adam said the same thing. I could see a smile playing around his eyes too, and it gave me the feeling I was not the first to experience that realization of distance.”
Ben’s eyes crinkled with merriment. “No, and you certainly won’t be the last.”
Another pocket of silence filled the large room. Sipping his wine, Ben observed Sarah over the rim of his glass, noting she was lost in thought and her bright smile had faded.
“A penny for your thoughts.”
“Hmm? Oh, I guess I was lost watching the flames dance around. They can be rather hypnotic. The same thing used to happen at home with David and I.”
Watching her grow distant again, Ben set his glass down and leaned toward Sarah. “Tell me what’s troubling you. And where is David? Is he coming later?”
Ben was not prepared for Sarah’s sudden tears. He quickly took the wine glass from her shaking hand and set it on the table. She took a couple of deep breaths to gather her courage to speak. Slowly lifting her moist eyes to Ben, she stumbled over her words. “Ben, David is…he’s dead. He died last year from a heart condition. He was sick for a while and the doctors said his heart was failing him. It just gave out.”
Rising from her seat to seek the openness of the room, she wrapped her arms about herself hoping to halt the sorrow that was rising up inside her. Ben could see her starting to shake and tears welling up. He moved quickly to her side and wrapped her in his strong arms. Accepting his gesture, she collapsed against him, allowing all that she had dealt with in the last year to crash down upon her. Like flood gates being opened, Sarah let go of all the pain and sadness she had buried inside. The safety and strength she felt in Ben’s arms brought a trust that somehow he would understand and could help her through her grief. Through the torrent of tears a quiet voice inside told her this was where she belonged.
As quickly as the storm of grief had arrived, it abated. However, she continued to rest against him as he lightly rubbed her back. A few more minutes passed before she moved away. He let her go but stayed near. Encouraging her to sit in his red chair, he sat on the low table across from her offering her his handkerchief. He waited patiently for her to speak.
“I’m sorry Ben. That wasn’t very proper or ladylike of me to lose control like that. I thought it was all behind me. I haven’t cried like that since the day David died. And that was…” She began to sob again.
“Shh, Sarah. I understand completely. I’ve lost three wives, the boys’ mothers. It took me a long time to adjust to life after losing them. You’ve nothing to be ashamed of. What happened just now is perfectly normal.” He lovingly caressed the backs of her hands while continuing to calm her down.
Feeling his empathy, she let a weak smile break through. “You do understand, don’t you.” She dropped her gaze, unable to say anymore.
Noticing how tired Sarah looked Ben knew any further discussion would have to wait.
“Why don’t I show you to your room. You can freshen up and rest until dinner is ready.”
He stood and Sarah followed. “Thank you, Ben. That would be nice.”
Together they went upstairs. Ben opened the door, and smiled. Adam had organized Sarah’s luggage, placing the bags on the bed and the trunk near the wardrobe. He also had placed a couple of books on the nightstand and had opened the curtains to let the western light brighten the space. It gave a welcoming feel to the room. Ben stepped aside to let Sarah enter. Her smile was all Ben needed to see.
She glanced around at the cherry furniture, and beige and blue tapestry bed covering. “Oh Ben, what a lovely room.”
“I hope you find it comfortable and can get some rest.”
“I’m sure I shall.”
He returned her smile before stepping out to the hall and pulling the door closed.
When Ben returned downstairs he found Hoss and his new bride Molly sitting by the fire.
“Hey, Pa. Hop Sing says supper’ll be ready in a jiffy. When I stopped by Adam’s house to get Molly he told me we have a house guest, the lady friend of yours we met back in St. Louis. Sarah Holmes was it?”
After greeting Molly with a kiss on the cheek, Ben settled in his chair, fidgeting with his pipe stand. “That’s right. And it’s Sarah Blakemore now. She’s resting upstairs.”
Hoss noticed his father seemed edgy. “Pa, is everything alright? Adam didn’t indicate there were any problems. He was as happy as could be that she was here.”
“Things are fine, Hoss, or they will be soon. Adam didn’t know this at the time but Sarah is dealing with some recent grief. Her husband, David, died last year of heart problems. That’s all I know, and it’s probably best we not ask anymore about it at this time. She’ll tell us more when she’s ready.”
“Sure Pa.” Hoss shared a sorrowful look with Molly and gave her a small hug. “Molly and I are sure sorry to hear about this. Hopefully bein’ here will help her feel better.”
“I’m sure it will, Hoss.”
Hoss and Molly chatted with Ben for a while before heading upstairs to freshen up for dinner. Recalling Sarah’s comment about hypnotic flames, Ben stared at the fire pondering Sarah’s situation. Just as Hop Sing announced dinner, the creak of a door upstairs caught Ben’s attention and he headed to the stairs. Sarah came down looking more refreshed, and wearing an emerald green dress with a navy beaded jacket. Ben couldn’t take his eyes off her. He offered his arm to her as the two strolled to the table.
Setting the last platter down, Hop Sing turned to address Sarah, grinning broadly, “Hop Sing happy to have lady friend of Mister Cartwright visit. Hop Sing fix special dessert tonight.”
“Oh, how kind of you. Thank you, Hop Sing.”
Sarah smiled as Ben nodded. “We’ll look forward to it, Hop Sing.”
Hop Sing grinned and returned to the kitchen.
“He’s wonderful, Ben.”
As the food was passed around, Ben explained further. “Hop Sing’s been with us for a very long time. He’s our cook, housekeeper, doctor on call, and part of the family.”
She reached over to squeeze Ben’s hand. “You are truly blessed.”
She received one of Ben’s warm smiles in response.
For the rest of the meal, Ben enjoyed watching Sarah smile and laugh at Hoss’ tales about his brothers and growing up on the Ponderosa. Molly joined in to tell Sarah about her move to Virginia City and meeting Hoss. In all the excitement of sharing stories, Hoss turned to Sarah to ask a question. “I was just wondering if David’s hotel business had worked out.”
When the merriment died down and Sarah hesitated to speak, Hoss realized his mistake, and was clearly flustered about it. “I’m sorry, Miss Sarah. I didn’t mean to say anything to upset you.”
Sarah managed a smile. “It’s fine, Hoss. Really. And yes, David’s business was quite successful. When we saw you in St. Louis he was getting ready to open two hotels. After that he learned of more development opportunities. We married that summer and began to travel extensively for his business. We finally settled in San Francisco where he opened his last hotel.” Her voice became shaky as she tried to keep those memories at bay.
Ben noticed and spoke up. “Why don’t we adjourn to the living room where we’ll be more comfortable and can enjoy Hop Sing’s special dessert.
Sarah smiled gratefully at Ben. Passing Hoss, Ben rested a reassuring hand on his son’s shoulder. Once they were all settled, Hop Sing appeared with chocolate cake topped with a cherry glaze and coffee for everyone. Once everyone was served he turned to Ben. “Mister Ben, you still plan to have family dinner this weekend?”
Resting his plate on his leg Ben glanced at Hoss who grinned and nodded, then turned to Sarah to explain. “With Joe and Adam living in their own homes we don’t see each other too often.”
“Not as often as Pa would like.” Hoss’ grin faded when Ben lowered his dark brows at him, but soon his eyes were twinkling.
“I guess that’s true. Anyway, we have occasional meals with one family or the other, but once a month we get everyone together. It’s planned for this Saturday here on the Ponderosa. It’s quite a houseful with Adam’s family of seven, plus Joe and Alice.” Ben paused to gage Sarah’s reaction thus far. “We can postpone it until next weekend, if you don’t think you’re up to it.”
Sarah’s eyes were alight with excitement. “No Ben, please don’t change it. It sounds like a wonderful time. I’d love to see Joe and Adam again and meet the full family.”
Ben turned back to Hop Sing. “Well, there’s your answer. I guess we’re all set for Saturday night.”
Hop Sing grinned and bowed. “Missy Sarah not be sorry. Have good time with family. Hop Sing cook good food for everybody.” With that he scurried back to his kitchen, talking up a storm in Chinese and English about supplies and the menu.
Sipping her coffee, Sarah observed Hoss and Molly as they planned out the next day. She recognized the expressions of newlyweds, focused on each other, oblivious to others in the room. Sarah smiled to herself as she recalled times like that with David. Although they were special memories, she shook her head to clear them away, lest the sadness begin all over again.
“Sarah, if I recall rightly, Pa said you once lived in New York. Molly lived there since she was a child.”
Hoss’ question brought Sarah back to the present. “New York, yes, actually. When I was seventeen I moved there with my parents to attend a business school for young ladies. My father wanted me to be able to work with him in his investment business.” At their surprised expressions, she explained further. “I was an only child and had a good head for math and business. So Father wanted to make sure I could run his business one day.”
“We moved there from Ireland when I was a child. When I grew up I helped me father in his grocery store. He an’ Hoss have told me I’ve a head for numbers, too.” She giggled. “I don’t know about that. But I am glad to be here an’ out of the big cities.”
“I can understand that. I’ve always lived in large cities too. Although I’ve only been here a few hours, I’m finding it quite a pleasant change.” She set her dishes on the low table as the clock chimed the hour. “I know it’s still early but I believe my travels are catching up to me. It’s been a good evening for me but I believe I shall say good night.”
Ben stood immediately. “Of course, Sarah. You must be quite tired. I’ll go up with you and make sure you have everything you need.”
“Good night, Hoss and Molly.”
Upstairs, Ben opened the door then stood aside to let Sarah enter first.
She immediately noticed the bed had been turned down and a vase of fresh flowers had been added to the decor. “Oh Ben, the flowers are beautiful.”
Entering the room Ben saw the small arrangement on the dry sink next to the bowl and pitcher, and fresh towels. His smile matched hers but for a different reason. He realized Hop Sing had come up to freshen the room for her, which included a vase of red tinged yellow roses from the garden. Sarah bent to smell their sweet scent when a sudden change in lighting drew her attention to the window. Ben followed, placing his hands on her shoulders as he stood behind her. A brilliant sunset was playing out before them.
“Oh Ben, I’ve never seen a more beautiful sunset. The lake looks like it’s on fire. You truly have found a piece of Heaven here.” She leaned back against him, allowing him to wrap his arms around her. They contemplated the beauty before them as fiery reds and oranges slowly changed to delicate pinks and violets. Finally the show ended as the sky turned to shades of indigo and black.
Ben released his embrace of Sarah and reached up to draw the curtains closed. He placed a soft kiss upon her forehead and spoke quietly to her. “I’m so glad you’re here. Rest well.”
Sarah looked up into his brown eyes. There she found strength and love. With her heart filled with so many emotions, she could trust her voice. Nodding her response, she watched as Ben crossed the room, observing his tall form and straight back, still so much like the young sailor she left behind all those years ago. He gave her one more warm smile before he quietly closed the door. Taking a deep breath to calm her rising feelings, Sarah changed into her nightgown, freshened up, and settled under the covers to read one of the books of poetry Adam had placed there earlier. She also had moved the flowers to her night stand, so she would see them when she awoke in the morning. Feeling peaceful and content, she only read a single poem before exhaustion set in. Soon she was sleeping deeply, snuggled down under the soft bedding, all her worries being chased away by the warmth and love she found on the Ponderosa.
Sarah awoke with a gentle light peeping through the curtains, and the sound of birds sharing their morning songs. Spying the roses by her bedside she smiled noting that the red edges had softened to orange overnight. Humming to herself, she took her time dressing, choosing a plum dress with lace edging for the day.
Descending the stairs, she paused on the landing when she saw Ben sitting at the table reading the newspaper, and a coffee cup poised midair in his hand. She wondered if the sight was normal for each day. Continuing on, she approached the table.
“Good morning, Ben.”
His head tilted upward as he placed the cup back in its sauce. Releasing the paper, he rose with a bright smile and greeted her with a kiss on her cheek. “Good morning. I trust you slept well.”
Sarah sat in the chair Ben pulled out for her. “Yes, perhaps one of the best nights I’ve had in awhile. Could it be the mountain air?”
Ben chuckled. “Best medicine ever. Would you care for some tea or coffee? Breakfast will be served momentarily.”
“Tea would be nice. And I believe that mountain air gives one a good appetite as well, or could it be the delectable smells coming from the kitchen?”
At that moment, Hop Sing appeared with a large silver tray laden with ham, eggs, and biscuits. On the second trip he brought a tea pot with a choice of teas, and three flavors of jam for the biscuits.
While Ben served the food, Sarah glanced around the room. “Where are Hoss and Molly?”
“Hoss rode out early to check the herds and Molly went to Adam’s house. She spends some of her days there helping Ana with the children, and others with Alice working on sewing projects.”
As they ate, Sarah inquired about how Ben managed a ranch the size of the Ponderosa, so Ben explained a few of the aspects of running the ranch, and which parts his sons managed. The leisurely breakfast was just what Sarah needed, and afterwards, while Ben prepared the payroll, she was content to read by the fireplace.
She jumped when Ben’s voice drifted over her shoulder. “Would you like to go for a walk outside? Perhaps some fresh air would be good for both of us.”
“How can I refuse such a wonderful offer or a handsome man?”
Outside, Ben explained to Sarah the significance of the different buildings before stopping at the corral. Watching one of the horses coming his way he bent down to retrieve some scattered hay.
“Hello, boy.” He held out the hay which the buckskin gladly accepted. “Sarah, this is Buck.”
Sarah rested her hand on the top rail letting Buck sniff it. When he nudged her she reached across and scratched along his jawline. “He’s beautiful.”
As Buck looked for more hay from his master, Ben patted his neck then gently pushed him toward the rest of the horses. “He was my main horse for many years, a gift from the boys when they were young. I don’t ride him as much now but I can’t bear to retire him completely.”
“I’ve felt that way about a couple of horses David and I had. One of them was my mount when I learned to ride. The other was her foal. I still own them. A friend is boarding them for me while I’m gone.”
Ben closed his eyes for a moment, noting the silence around the house. He still missed the busier days when his sons lived at home, but the tradeoffs were his daughters-in-law and grandchildren.
“My turn to ask you what you’re thinking.”
Ben opened his eyes. “Oh, just pondering the changes in my family.”
“Nothing serious I hope,” she ventured, unsure how to take Ben’s statement.
“Oh no, nothing like that. Just that the house is so quiet with the boys living on their own now. Things are good, just different. That’s all.”
Sarah captured Ben’s hand in hers. “Life has a way of catching us off guard with her changes, doesn’t she?”
“She sure does. Listen, why don’t I show you some of the highlights of the Ponderosa? We’ll have a picnic too. How does that sound?”
“Delightful. What can I do to help?”
“Nothing at all. Why don’t you wait on the porch for me. I’ll ask Hop Sing to prepare the picnic lunch while I get the buggy ready.”
Ben and Sarah strolled back to the house, arm in arm. Sarah couldn’t contain her excitement of spending the afternoon with him and seeing the Ponderosa. She hugged his arm and took a satisfying breath of cool mountain air. Already it felt like she’d been there much longer than a day.
After a short drive through tall evergreens and fields filled with wildflowers, the couple settled on a sunny spot on a ridge overlooking a pasture with Lake Tahoe shimmering in the distance.
During their lunch Ben studied Sarah’s ever-changing expressions as she watched the cattle meander across the pasture and a deer scamper along the edge of the forest. His heart swelled when she marveled at the beauty of the sparkling blue lake.
After dessert, she leaned against him as he stroked her silver hair. Sighing contentedly, she reached up to take his hand in hers. “Tell me this is all real.”
“Hmm? I’m sorry. Did you say something, Sarah?” Ben had been lost in his own musings.
“All of this is too beautiful to be real, Ben. Tell me I’m not dreaming.”
He whispered in her ear, “It is real, my love, and all here for your pleasure.”
His soft kiss tickled her cheek making her laugh. When she turned her head to look at him, he captured her lips with his. Caught by surprise she almost pulled away, but something rose inside her making her pull him closer. When the kiss finally ended, the two sat breathless. Ben drew Sarah back to him for another kiss but suddenly she pulled away.
“I can’t Ben, I…just can’t.”
Where a moment ago her eyes were filled with passion, there was now sorrow. His voice was soft and gentle. “Sarah, tell me about last year, about the last ten years.”
She moved away from him. “I can’t. I’m not ready. It’s all too painful.”
Ben reached for her and pulled her close to him. Together they rested against a sturdy pine. “Sarah, I’ve lost three wives. I understand your grief.” In a gentle voice just loud enough for her ears, he told her about each love of his life, how special they were to him and how they died. He told her about the son each of them left with him which gave him his reason for moving forward.
When he finished, Sarah turned to him trying to find words to express her guilt. “Ben, I had no idea. I thought it was only Elizabeth. When I returned to Boston two years later and learned from David that you had married Captain Stoddard’s daughter. I was heartbroken but deep down I figured that it was for the best for both of us. I guess we were both meant to follow different paths in our lives.”
“Yes, perhaps we were.” He stood up, assisting her to stand with him. “But now our paths have crossed once more. And this time, I don’t want to lose you.” He tilted his head to kiss her once more.
She responded to his kiss before he felt her shudder and pull away. “I can’t do this. I just can’t.”
She ran to the edge of the ridge. Fearing she might lose her footing, Ben approached cautiously until he was able to reach her hand. “Sarah, listen to me. I’ve been where you are now. The darkness of grief is all you’ve known, and I’m offering you a chance to move back into the light, and life, once more. Tell me everything since we last saw each other. You’ve got to let it out or it’s going to eat at you forever.”
With her back to him Sarah listened to Ben’s words, but she couldn’t look at him. His words made her realize she was still hanging on to David, and she also had never dealt with the guilt of hurting Ben in St. Louis. But something in his quiet voice, his soft touch, his patient breathing, something told her it was okay to trust him, to open up and tell him everything.
Allowing Ben to lead her back to the blanket, Sarah sat by him and told her story, filling in the missing years since their abrupt farewell in Boston. “By the time I finished school in New York and returned to Boston with my parents, you were gone. As I said, David told me you had married and left Boston heading west. I had no idea you had left a widower.
“For most of those years before St. Louis, David and I led very different lives. I worked with my father in financing and investments. David worked with his father in property development. We crossed paths at times so we were able to keep in touch. About five years before St. Louis, David’s father died and, with his inheritance, he launched his hotel business. It was a slow start but by the time we arrived in St. Louis, it had found its footing.”
She paused knowing the next part contained difficult memories for both of them. “To answer the question I see in your eyes, David and I never married in those early years because of our different lifestyles. There was always an attraction there, just as there was for you and me, but not enough for marriage.”
Sarah searched Ben’s face for any reaction. She had no way to tell if he’d forgiven her for not accepting his marriage proposal in St. Louis.
Ben shifted beside her as he felt the sting of Sarah’s words as they pricked his heart once more. He felt a light touch on his arm.
“Ben. I can see the conflict in your eyes. I know I hurt you that night in St. Louis. Yes, I loved you all those years ago in Boston. I just never had the chance to say so. And after thirty years of not knowing where you were or what you were doing, I never dreamed that you could still love me. After David’s business stabilized, he started courting me. By the time he asked me to marry him, I truly loved him.” She gently squeezed Ben’s arm. “When I saw you that first night in St. Louis, everything I felt for you came back to me. I cherished all the time we had and when you asked me to marry you, it broke my heart as much as it broke yours for me to tell you about my engagement to David.”
“Did David know you loved me? And is that why you stayed away all these years, Sarah? I forgave you after I returned home, and would have welcomed you, and David, to the Ponderosa.”
“No Ben, David never knew. Oh, I’m sure he suspected in those early years after you married Elizabeth, but he didn’t know I still cared for you by the time we married. After our first year of marriage, we began to travel to other cities to find places for David to build. We spent a couple of years in Europe before finally settling in San Francisco. While establishing our accounts there, we came across your name. All we could find out was that you owned a large ranch in Nevada. At that point I wanted to find you, to see you. David was willing but he was also busy with his hotels, which kept me busy as well. I was his financial advisor and bookkeeper. It’s no excuse but time drifted by and before I realized it ten years had passed and I was a widow and alone.”
Ben leaned against the tree to ponder all she had said. He knew somewhere deep inside she still loved him, but he wasn’t sure she was ready to free those feelings.
“Were you and David happy? Did he treat you well?”
“Yes, we were very happy. It was a busy life, but still fulfilling in many ways.”
“Who is running David’s company now? I suppose you will have to go back soon. A large business like that can’t run itself.”
Sarah’s eyes brightened with that question but her voice still held her grief. “You’re correct, it needs a strong person at the helm, and in truth I don’t know who that is.” Ben gave her the stunned reaction she expected. “I don’t know because I no longer own the business. Before David died, he transferred all his holdings to me, as his partner. After he was gone, I gradually sold all his holdings. He had two trusted attorneys, and, per David’s will, they found reputable buyers for each of the holdings. His investments were cashed out and reinvested under my name, well part of it. I used my middle and maiden names, ‘S. Morgan Holmes’. I sold both our town home in San Francisco and our estate in Monterey. The only items I kept were a few pieces of furniture we bought in England, and our horses. We owned four thoroughbreds, two of which were studs for racing horses. The other two are the female and foal I told you about. I couldn’t bear to part with them without thinking about it first.”
Sarah finally faced Ben. “In January I signed the last document that held me to San Francisco. I have cut all ties to that city because it held too many memories. All of them were good but I was afraid to stay there.” She dropped her gaze to her hands resting on his arm. Inside something fell into place. Bringing her eyes up to meet his, she spoke the truth he’d seen and was waiting for her to see. “Looking back I never really knew why I cut all ties with my life with David. I will always love him, but I felt I needed a fresh start. Even after coming here I never realized any of that until this moment. You were right. I was so busy dealing with David’s estate and his business holdings, I never took time to mourn him, and to say good-bye.”
For several minutes Ben remained silent. Sarah scanned his dark eyes, unsure what she was looking for.
Ben reached out to stroke her cheek with one hand while entwining the fingers of his other hand in her hair. Guiding her toward him he placed kisses on each cheek before resting his lips on hers. He felt her fingers tighten on his arms as he allowed his passion for her to rise. He felt a long buried desire explode inside as Sarah responded to each of his advances. Pulling apart at the same time, both collapse on the blanket breathless and laughing.
Finally catching his breath, Ben rolled to one knee. “Sarah Anne Morgan Holmes Blakemore, will you marry me?”
Sarah’s eyes brightened from the wide smile gracing her lips. “Yes, Ben. I will marry you, finally.”
As the sun slipped down the sky toward the lake, Hoss left the barn, securing the door behind him. The afternoon chores were done, making him smile. Now he had time to sit with his bride until dinner was ready.
As he strode across the yard, he wiped his brow with his bandana. Despite the heat earlier in the day, there was a coolness in the afternoon air, intensified by the sweat he’d worked up in the warm barn. Stuffing his bandana back into his rear pocket, he strolled over to the pump and trough to rinse his hands and face off. Hearing the door open he turned to see his wife, oh how he loved that word, carrying a tray of coffee and cookies.
Hoss’s stomach rumbled, making him grin. He had definitely worked up an appetite. In two long strides he met Molly at the steps to the porch.
“Here darlin’, let me take that.”
Molly handed the tray to Hoss then raised up on her tiptoes to kiss his cheek.
The couple settled in the chairs and sipped their coffee, Hoss already having enjoyed three cookies. The coffee warmed them both as a cool breeze blew. Summer had begun a few days before, according to the calendar, but in the Sierras that didn’t mean much. Spring and summer were still fighting each other.
“Molly, how’d you get the cookies from Hop Sing?” Hoss took the last sugar cookie and nearly swallowed it whole.
Molly giggled, her blue eyes twinkling at her husband’s childlike delight over the cookies. “I just looked at Hop Sing, dolefully, an’ asked if I could have a few for me sweet husband. He smiled an’ nodded, an’ set up the tray for me.”
Hoss leaned over and kissed Molly. He dearly loved his Irish wife. She made each day joyous with her beautiful auburn hair and blue eyes, her musical laugh, and her fiery temper. Her temper didn’t phase him one bit. He was used to tempers in his family, and he found his wife was more fun to be with than his father or brothers, after she calmed down.
As the dinner hour grew closer Molly cleaned up the dishes to take them inside. She noticed her husband frowning and staring at the entry to the yard.
“Hoss, is somethin’ wrong?”
“Hop Sing said Pa an’ Miss Sarah left around lunch time, an’ it’s gettin’ to be dinner time.”
Molly left the tray and slipped her arm around Hoss’ arm. “I’m sure they’re fine. After you tellin’ me about their past, I expect they have a lot to talk about.” She tugged on his arm. “Come, let’s go in. Wouldn’t look right if your Pa saw us sittin’ here lookin’ like we were waitin’ for ‘em.”
Hoss relaxed and turned to Molly. “No, it sure wouldn’t, although he’s sure done it enough times to us.” He picked up the tray and together they headed into the house.
As the sun drifted closer to the ring of mountains, Ben turned the buggy toward the house. His thoughts were in a whirlwind, as were Sarah’s. It had been an intense day for both of them, and now they were finally on the same path together. Sarah snuggled up to him under the blanket in an attempt to keep warm, but it was more that she no longer wanted to be separated from him. When they finally pulled into the yard, he let a ranch hand take care of the buggy, while he escorted his bride-to-be into the house. As they had agreed to keep their engagement a secret until the family party, both paused outside the door, had one last kiss, then entered the home with straight faces. Neither Hoss, Molly, or Hop Sing were fooled but all three kept the secret for a couple more days.
The day had arrived for the monthly Cartwright family dinner. Since the weather had turned more comfortable, he sent word for everyone to arrive mid-afternoon in order to give more time for visiting before dinner.
Joe and Alice had arrived first to help with any last minute preparations. Since Alice was a couple of months from her time of delivery, she offered to help Hop Sing in the kitchen. Joe took over monitoring the spit of roast beef so Hoss could set up tables.
Sarah listened for a moment to the varied conversations both inside and outside the house before returning to getting dressed. She reached for a hairclip on her dressing table and took a moment to caress the inlaid flowers made alabaster. David had given it to her on their tenth anniversary, just a few weeks before he became ill. On this special day she chose to wear it in his honor. After she secured it in place she reached for her dress. The rose color brought out her blue eyes and the slight shimmer of the fabric made her complexion glow. Slipping it on she fastened easily, and adjusted the lace edging around the open neck.
A quiet knock on the door gave her a start but then she smiled when she realised who it would be.
Ben stepped into the room Sarah blushed as his eyes flicked over her from head to two. He stepped closer taking hold of her hands.
“You look ravishing. I’m tempted to keep you all to myself.”
“Don’t be silly, Ben. We have to make an appearance so we can make our announcement.”
“Yes, yes, you are quite right, but after that…”
“After that we’ll celebrate and we’ll feast with the family.”
“Have I told you you are quite smart?”
“Not recently. Now, I know Joe and Alice are here, so Adam can’t be far behind. Would you be my escort downstairs, sir?”
“It would be my pleasure, madame.”
The laughter both shared going down the hall, lasted until they reached the bottom of the stairs.
“What’s so funny?” Joe finished an apple and tossed it into the fire as he rose to greet his father and Sarah.
“Oh, just a private joke.”
Joe exchanged glances with Hoss then released his warmest smile as he took Sarah’s hand in his. “I couldn’t believe it when I got Pa’s note about you visiting us. It’s so good to see you again.”
“It’s wonderful to see you too. Is this your wife?’
Joe turned as Alice joined them. “Yes, Sarah this is Alice. Alice this is Sarah Blakemore.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Sarah. Joe told me how he met you in St. Louis.”
“Why don’t we all sit down while we wait for Adam’s family to arrive?” Ben guided Sarah to his chair while he sat in one of the dining room chairs.
“Yeah, it’s just like older brother to be late.”
“Well, you just wait, Joseph, till you have that many kids and see what it does to your time table.”
Joe elbowed Hoss, giving him a scowl. As the light banter continued between the brothers Ben watched as Sarah took it all in stride. Her eyes sparkled and a continual smile brightened her face. Ben’s heart was filled with joy to see her relaxed and enjoying herself. When she glanced his way and their eyes met, he was left breathless.
Any further thoughts he may have had were interrupted when Joe suddenly stood up and went to open the door. That’s when Ben noticed the voices and many footsteps approaching the house. He knew those familiar sounds meant one thing.
“It’s about time you got here elder brother. You’re not setting a good example for your children by arriving late. ‘Sides we have a guest that’s just itching to meet you and your family.”
Joe nearly pulled Adam through the door then greeted his sister-in-law. Ben and Sarah arrived to greet the new arrivals as well.
“Don’t pay any attention to your brother, Adam. You are right on time.”
“Hello, Adam. It’s good to see you again.”
Adam stepped forward to greet Sarah with a kiss on the cheek. “And you too. May I present my wife Ana, and my children, Amanda, Emily, Sam, Aaron, and this wee one is Anna Grace.”
As soon as the children greeted Sarah Adam gave them a nod and they surrounded Ben and their uncles for hugs.
Joe nudged Adam. “How do you know Sarah?”
Adam smirked as he moved closer to his wife. “I’m the one who brought her out to the ranch, little brother.”
As the afternoon progressed everyone headed outside to enjoy the fine weather. Ben sat on the porch with a sleeping Anna Grace in his arms, and Sarah sat beside him watching the games the children played with their uncles.
“A wonderful scene, isn’t it?”
Sarah felt Ben’s hand on hers.
“Yes, it is. One I thought I’d never experience.” She glanced his way with a smile.
“And there will be many more like this one. I can promise you that.”
“I look forward to each and every one of them.”
With his usual impeccable timing, Hop Sing arrived with a tray of glasses and a bottle of champagne.
“Well, I guess it’s time we make this official. Are you ready?”
“Always, as long as you’re beside me.”
Ben handed the baby to Ana as Hop Sing tapped the bell near the front door. Everyone grew quiet and gathered around the porch. Hop Sing filled the glasses and handed them to the adults.
“As you all know I look forward to any time all of us can be together, and today is one of those wonderful days but it’s made more special by our unexpected, and most welcomed, guest, Sarah Blakemore.” Ben reached for her hand. “I know a few of you probably already suspect what I’m going to say next, and I thank you for keeping it quiet.” He glanced at Sarah who nodded and squeezed his hand. “Well, here goes. I have asked Sarah to marry me and she said yes. Here’s to the newest member of the ever-growing Cartwright family.” Ben leaned over to kiss Sarah, then raised his glass. Everyone joined in with cheers.
As the ladies gathered around Sarah to welcome her, Each son came forward to give their best wishes, and share a special word with their father.
“It’s about time. I was fittin’ to bust tryin’ to keep it quiet.”
“Hoss didn’t keep it too quiet. I could tell something was up by that silly grin on his face when I arrived.”
“I’m happy for you. And if you didn’t announce it today, I was afraid I was going to have a talk with you.”
Ben happily accepted each comment, realizing it was becoming impossible to keep a secret in the family.
The celebration continued right into dinner. After dessert was enjoyed, Adam and Joe bid farewell to everyone and returned to their homes. Hoss and Molly said good night and headed to their room. Ben told Hop Sing to leave the rest of the clean up from the next day and to get some much deserved rest. He happily obliged his boss and friend.
Finding themselves alone at last, Ben led Sarah to the garden out back. There was still just enough daylight remaining for him to show her a special flower.
Sitting beside Sarah on the bench he took one of the purple and pink blooms in his hand. This was a tiny vine ten years ago, and my heart was aching badly when I discovered it. It was right after we returned from St. Louis. Hop Sing came to the garden that morning and shared with me the legend of this Morning Glory. It had a sad story about two young lovers being separated because of their love, but then he told me that the blooms which only last for a day also mean that love can be new each and every day. That is the way I see our love. It won’t fade when the sun goes down, like these blooms do, but it will be new and exciting every morning.”
Releasing the flower, Ben took Sarah in his arms and kissed her passionately. When he released her, the couple remained on the bench watching the light fade, and the stars appear, both ready to begin their new life together.
Other Stories by this Author
- Believe in Love – A Special Love (by AC1830)
- Angel of Love (by AC1830)
- Bound by Love (by AC1830)
- Christmas Child (by AC1830)
- A Heart of Hope (by AC1830)